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F1, Rugby, Cricket: Anything but football

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

The final Chapter: Monterrey

I know this is a little late in coming as I have long since left Monterrey and have had enough time to spend a weekend at home, have three birthdays and play 2 intence sets of international badmington (I think I could have Pricsilla's number at this manly game). But folling the old maxim of "better late than never" I thought I should start the final edition of the blog before I stray into the realm of another: "nothing is more fatuiging than the eternal hanging on of an uncompled task".

If you can remember, and it is a struggle for me, and I was there, We had left the costal town of Tampico and had made our way to Monterrey in Nueva Leon. There is a Monterrey in Texas and while sometimes it is hard to tell you are still in Mexico (all the super sized flags had been taken down because of the Hurricane) and the city is one of the most americanised in all of Mexico we were infact still in the most sothern country in North America.

The mexican version of Monterrey is hot, very hot. It was a very cool summer so the thermerstats only just touched 40 at the hottest part of the day. I feel if the cradle of mankind had been Nueva Leon I think we may have invented the electric hand-held fan before the wheel. I was spending my last 11 days in Lau's house in the trendy suberb of Monterrey called San Pedro Garza Garcia or San Pedro or Garza Garcia, or any combination of those 4 words, for short. Monterrey is set in (translation) the Vally of the Seat so called because one of the peaks looks like a seat, which it does, once you learn that the spanish for seat and saddle are the same word. In this case they clearly meant saddle because if it did look like a seat, in the english sence of the word, then it wasn't a seat I would want to sit on. San Pedro was set in one of the tree covered mountain sides in the shadows of the vally of the M, so named because it looks like an M, though I thought it looked like a W. Here Spanish does have a difference between M and W so this is just a question of point of view, though there is no difference between B and V sounds. With all these points of confusion it is no wonder they kicked the spanish out.

Inspite of these issues San Pedro is simply a beautiful place. The houses on high, surrounded by trees look like the homes of Bond Super villans and the view from the balcony of Lau's own home made would have been a far better present to a Dictator with delusions of grandure than the Eagles Nest. In the early years of colonialisation Monterrey, because of the distances if nothing else, was cut off from the south and thus had to develope itself at its own speed. Looking at it now it seems that speed may have been faster but it didn't come easy. It required nothing less than hard work and dedication. Monterrey was a town of fire and industry, the old steel mill still dominates the sky line. The wealth Monterrey enjoys now was bourn out of hard work and physical labour of the past and is warn on the faces and in the caracter of it's people today.

Lau's father was one of those people. He had worked hard and was now enjoying the fruits of his labour in retirement. He had on display one of the most impressive things I have ever seen. Everyone has a DVD collection, some have a collection numbering around 1000 DVD's but how many people numbered their DVD's and listed them in document form? All men wish they had the time and the willpower to complete such a task. You almost certainly need more of the latter than the former to do it but Lau's father had both, Nearer to the gods no mortal may approach.

Monterrey is a town of pragmatism with little given away to tourists. It's recreational activities are there for the people who live there to do and enjoy. The old steel mill has been turned into a museum which we saw and is a popular stop for many, glorifying the forfathers of the city. There is a beaufitul plaza for the locals to enjoy and walk around, which was very pleasent, inspite of the soaring temperatures.

Monterrey has many natural beauties as well. One which we visited was a series of caves dug deep into the mountain. Earth processes take a long time, and what they from can be simply mindbollging!!! Some rock formations inculded the faces of mice, entire coke bottles, seals, toombs, pipe organs and the enevitable face of Jesus. There were many other nautral wonders around but most of them were closed because of Hurricane Alex which had blown through about a month before I arrived in Mexico. While much had been destroyed or blown away but the hurricanes power the city was recovering with impressive speed, I think inkeeping with the caracter of the place and of it's people. When I looked at the town I thought of a heavy weight champ, priviously unblemished by the blows of his opponents that is knocked to the canvas by a savage and chance attack and then rises to his feet still as pristine as before. There is a certain grit about monterrey which will not allow it to be defeated even by the elements.

I was treated to many local customsand treditions whilst I was in Monterrey: Such as a luchtime BBQ which finished at about the same time we would start eating dinner in England. A mexican birthday which envolves the breaking of a Pinyata as well as cake, songs and candels. And a live viewing of Pinewood studio's perenial classic Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines. It is to the credit of the artists behind the movie and to the good tast of Mexican people everywhere that this, almost forgotten, piece of British cinema is a landmark family tradition throughout the land, at least I think it is. It certainly was close to the hearts of every memeber of the Lozano family, and that seems to account for over half the population of Mexico.

Alas, from here on, there is no more to follow. My voyage in, around and through Mexico has already come to an end. Mexico is a far to complex place to sum up. All I will say is the Mexico you so often hear about in the news or that forms the 'but' of so many zenaphobic American jokes is not the country I saw. What it is known for, or may be known for, by people who haven't been there isn't how I known it. I will remeber the hospitality I recieved everywhere I went, the sunning natural and human contrasts, Lucha Libre and a strong sence of national herratage and a culture that the people are striving to protect.

While I did have a sence that the country is closing in on a more and more uncertain path, with difficult battles ahead, these are all battles that the good people of Mexico have within them to win, as what they are fighting for is far stronger than what they are fighting against. Any country that as you leave you whish that is where you were travelling to, must be a mighty fine place.

Over and out, many thanks,

Chris. (James rocks!)

Wednesday, 4 August 2010


Mexico City had been a tremendously interesting place full of fascinating avenues of versatility. But we had a lot more of Mexico to see so Tuesday morning was our queue to pack our bags and head north. We also had to say goodbye to Priscilla who had to return back to LA. We, Lau Pao and myself, were heading to Pao's home in Tampico which was a mammoth 10 hour bus journey north to the Gulf Cost.

The size that it is makes Mexico a challenging country to navigate as vast distances are required to travel from one landmark city to another. Part of the fun of the place is that people like to travel these vast distances by bus which, for anyone who has had the horror of using a replacement bus service in london, may seem barbaric!!! But I have to point out that these are no ordinary busses. The comfortable, air-conditioned cabin with its reclining chairs and Toilet facilities, which would impress a Frenchman if found beside an autoroute in the Dordogne, are as nicer place as any to spend 10 consecutive hours in the same place. And fortunately the road to Tampico provided us with a splendid view.

Unfortunately the view of the tropical mountain pass was obstructed by a rather large Mexican and my bodies uncanny ability to find itself fatigued when in a moving vehicle. But from what I could make out it looked like it would have been a nice place too stop off and have a gander at. But spontaneous idolness is not a part of the job description for a Mexican bus driver who sees the journey as a race between himself and the estimated time of arrival. This was good news for us as we arrived in Tampico after around 9 hours and 3 minutes of travel.

Pao's sister Melissa picked us up from the bus stop and took us to Pao home. It was far hotter than in Mexico City (thank god) but the moistness in the air and the cooling sea breeze made it quite comfortable. The evening's sun was setting fast so we quickly decided to make our way to Pao's families country club (they were members, they didn't own it). It was an idillic place as far away from Lucha Libre as it is possible to be. Behind the infinity pool there was a golf course, behind which there was a beautiful estuary behind which there was the orange setting sun. Even the oil refineries in the distance we a thing of beauty in the abstract. This was a place where you could make the most out of doing nothing.

We were in Tampico until saturday so we had time to go to the beach, the pool and repeat. on wednesday we went to the beach which had waves twice the size of the ones in Santa Monica and currents that, if they were a man trying it on with a lady would have been coming on a little to strong. They sucked you in and pulled you left from right and then the waves chucked you forwards. This time I had the foresight to not wear my sunglasses in the ocean so there was no damage done.

Pao's family has a beach house so close that it is practically on the beach which has its own shared pool if the sea isn't tranquil enough for you (which was true in our case). We had the sea food smorgasbords to end all smorgasbords for lunch. I didn't know there were so many different ways to eat crabs!!! It was simply delicious.

In the evening we went to see Grown Ups in the local cinema. The Mexican cinematic experience is thwarted by a slight lack of common sense which doesn't at all ruin what ever it is you are seeing but it does leave a cynical westerner like me wondering why they don't do things our way. When you buy a ticket in the uk one of the things you get with the ticket is a seat number so that you know where to sit. Unfortunately this uncomplicated piece of information was left out of the Mexican version of "Running a Cinema for Dummies" so all you get it the ticket, as for finding a seat you are left to your own devices. If you want to get a good seat then it seems you have to show up at the cinema before you've even had the idea that you want to see a film so that you are towards the front of the line which forms outside the doors for the screen of the film of your future choice. Alas we were not so forward thinking and were therefore right at the front, of the cinema. Fortunately Adam Sandler's latest comedy piece was not ruined by the distorted picture which happens when you sit so close.

There is one other addition to the Mexican cinematic experience, though I am told this isn't a regular occurrence. Before the film a mock star wars beginning started and Lau told me that the rolling Yellow font was a request to turn of mobile phones etc, so I paid no attention to it. Then, towards the end, suddenly all the women in the audiences stared shout "no!!!!!' "no!!!!!!!!" this needed no translation, something was up. Then the cries were of "propuesta!!!" "propuesta!!!" this did need a translation, Lau said it was a marriage proposal, for Olga, on their one year anniversary, or so the scrolling yellow font said, apparently. Well I was reliable informed that she said "si" so it was a nice start to the film about middle-aged men struggling through the mundane rapidity of Family life, I wonder if they stayed until the end? At least it wasn't Kramer Vs Kramer.

More to follow,


Monday, 2 August 2010

Lucha Libre

One of the few things that I knew I wanted to see whilst I was in Mexico was Lucha Libre. This is Mexico's answer to WWE wrestling and is a very popular sport amongst the Mexican people. Lucha (Wrestling) Libre (free) was a regional phenomenon in Mexico un till Salvador Lutteroth founded the Mexican Wrestling Enterprise in 1933 which gave the sport a foothold on an national scale for the first time. The wearing of Masks and tight crotch hugging lycra shorts was popularised by Luchador El Santo (the Saint) in 1942 who kept his identity disguised throughout his career, a move which proved popular with the fans, contemporary and future wrestlers and presumably his mother. El Santo's career spanned an impressive 5 decades and he become a folk hero of the people of Mexico. Here endeth the lesson.

One of Lau's various contacts in Mexico city (a blood relation, in fact most of Lau contacts in Mexico in general are related to her) managed to get us some free tickets so we had front row seats to the show. One of the differences between Lucha and US wrestlers is the agility and speed. The Luchadors would perform acrobatic manoeuvres off the ropes, on the ropes, through the ropes and, if things went wrong, in the ropes. Not all the men or women (the latter having about as much sex appeal as a road accident) were graced with fine athletic physiques however. Indeed the fighters who were on early looked as though when they got up in the mornings, looked at their bodies in the mirror, and after honest self assessment decided that what they should develop first was a sense of humour.

With some of the confrontations a sense of humour was required from the audience as well. They loved to pitch short stubby men against giants who puff out their chests and absorb blows without taking a backward step or without even trying to block the punches (backhands to the chest). The look of shock on the stubby one's face when his backhand to the chest of the giant across from him caused the giant no harm whatsoever brought a smile to you face. It was even more funny when the ladies where in the ring as a backhand to the chest became a boob slap!!

They were all masters of playing to the crowd and getting the audience involved. As you got into the evenings entertainment you couldn't help be enthralled by what you were seeing. Its not that it looks real, in fact I don't think it is supposed to look real. You are asked to imagine how much it looks like it must hurt even if it doesn't really. It is rather like going to the theatre. If you watch movies of stage shows then they are very often mediocre at best. But if you go and see one live in the theatre then they are inthralling. Lucha Libre is exactly the same. It may not look like much to television but get up close and personal the the actors on the stage and you are glued to their every move.

In the theatre however you don't a chance to scream the worst profanities possible at the player on the stage. Lucha Libre encourages this kind of behaviour which makes it all the more fun. Some of the words being shouted in spanish were so vile they didn't even carry an english translation. Imagine a word so bad you can't translate it!!! So Prichilla and I could only imagine what they Mexican audience (including Lau and Pao by the end) were shouting at the corrupt referee who had awarded the last bout to the villains of the piece and in doing so stole victory away from the rightful winner El Mistico (This one shouldn't need a translation).

We all agreed that it was tremendous fun and anyone travelling through Mexico simply has to go and see the Luchadors in action. Don't let what you see on TV or in a Jack Black movie form the basis of your opinion. Go and see it for yourself with an open mind and you will have an amazing time!!!

more to follow,